This post is part of a series walking through the third volume of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace
So what does make something “Christian” when we’re thinking about the state? What makes something a “Christian” or “unchristian” policy? Some think that the answer is tied to specific commands of Christ, or through confession of Him as Savior. Others hold that there is a “Christian” state if there is an established state church. Others believe that opening a meeting of the government with prayer will do it. Yet others think that a Christian government is when politicians are personally Christian.
All of these groups forget that in this case “Christian” is an adjective added to the noun “state.” Something can be a perfectly legitimate state without being “Christian.” Instead, laws/policies/governments that line up with revealed Scripture may be “Christian”–though theoretically this could be done by unbelievers in government as well. Practically that tends to be uncommon, in Kuyper’s view.
In each area of the state–families, businesses, associations, etc–if the state properly understands these relationship in its regulations, it is “Christian.” This cannot be done where Christianity is unknown. That said, in these states (where Christianity is unknown) the laws and policies may not be explicitly anti-Christian. It may even be a good and well-run state.
The arrival of Christianity in a state brings new/correct views of the state and moves the state towards Christianity. This is not immediate and may not involve the conversion of the state. But it is improvement–especially over time. And eventually the “grafted” plant of Christianity may change the trunk.
Such grafting is not an intellectual action [maybe not even an intentional one?] but rather the moral effect of regenerate hearts. This is so slow that there is often no recognition that fundamental political change is needed. In a sense, we need the contest between Christian and non- or anti-Christian to keep us thoughtful and away from complacency. The attempt to undo Christian influence has led some to re-think the foundations of society and the faith alike.
So we see the limits of “Christian statecraft” in a sense just means the “best” statecraft, which would be fine enough to use if it didn’t automatically exclude all the non-Christian nations of the world (which, again, are perfectly legitimate nations). So we should not forget the influence of Christianity on the development of the West and of politics.